Colorful Past Bright Future by Daniel Volland in Pondicherry

Seattle-based Yodeler Daniel Volland went on a road trip through Southern India with Kamalan, a boutique cultural agency that curates immersive travel experiences to India. His journey started on the east coast, in Chennai, and finished on the west coast, in Cochin. One of the notable cities visited was Pondicherry, a charming seaside town celebrated for its historic architecture and its French colonial heritage. Affectionately known as ‘Pondy,’ the city is the largest city and capital of the Indian territory of Puducherry, having a population of nearly 250,000 people. The alternately bustling and relaxed town is filled with history, things to do, and places to explore. Traveling with Kamalan helped Daniel learn about Pondicherry’s colorful past, experience its present restoration and vitality, and glimpse a preview of its bright future.
Name:Daniel Volland

Occupation: I am a Photographer and Optometric Physician, and I split most of my time between Seattle and remote Alaska.

Can you sum up Pondicherry? Southern India is constantly alive and vibrant. It took me a few days to finally feel at home in the frenzy. It can feel, at first, like a visible and audible assault; there are bright colors everywhere, people walking, cars honking, motorcycles zooming, goats blocking traffic. Everything is moving and pulsing with life. Gradually, the chaos becomes delightful; there is so much wonder to take in. On the coast of the Bay of Bengal, Pondicherry is a unique gem of a town in that it has French colonial history. The architecture, much of which is being currently restored, reflects this classical heritage and embodies a sense of casual refinement and order. The seaside escape offers plenty of serene, shade-covered side streets that can provide a moment, albeit fleeting, of quiet and reflection.

What is the best thing about Pondicherry? The food! Pondicherry is a cultural mash-up; and this is reflected in the cuisine. Pondicherry families have a unique regional take on creole food that is a fusion of coastal French and Southern Indian styles of cooking and seasoning. It is spicy and bold, but also layered and nuanced. I fondly recall a dish of stuffed crab, served in the shell. Much of Southern Indian fare is vegetarian due to the prevalent religious and social traditions, but good seafood can be enjoyed in Pondicherry.

What is a perfect day in Pondicherry? I’d start with a dip in the pool and then a good Indian breakfast and coffee, accented with earthy notes of chicory, before setting out on a walking tour to learn about the historic architecture of the French Quarter. In the early evening, a breezy seaside bike ride or a visit to the colorful and busy temple market is in order, followed by a night-time swim and a cold Kingfisher beer.

What are the people like in Pondicherry? Everyone is happy to be in Pondicherry; it is somewhat of an escape or a vacation town frequented not only by international tourists but also by residents of the surrounding regions. Locals are very welcoming and will likely be very interested in where you are visiting from; they may even want a selfie with you! There is a relaxed vibe and pace of life.

If Pondicherry was a person who would it be? A happily retired grandfather, who may be a little slower with age, but still has a twinkle in his eye when he sees his grandchildren.

What are some local secrets about Pondicherry? If you get the chance and have adequate transportation, there is nearby utopian society called Auroville that is worth learning about – you’ll need to call their Visitor’s Centre to arrange a guided tour.

How to spend 24 hours in Pondicherry? If I only had a day in Pondicherry, I’d make sure to book a historical walking tour through the French Quarter. This is one of the best ways to gain an appreciation for the unique architecture and cultural context of Pondy. Doing this in the morning will also help get you oriented with the lay of the land, and is a fantastic jumping-off point for your own later explorations.


Name:Daniel Volland


Best place to eat:
The rooftop restaurant overlooking the pool at the Palais de Mahe has wonderful South Indian food and western menu options. Because sometimes, you just need pancakes in the morning.

Best place to drink:
Find a local street coffee stand, expect a strong and delicious brew!

Best place to shop:
Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple market. If you visit the temple at the right time, you may be blessed by an elephant, in exchange for an offering.

Best activity:
Ride a bike through town if you dare! If you can brave the motorcycle and rickshaw traffic, it’s the best way to get around and see the sights.

Best place to stay:

Local tip:
There are several beautiful and historic church buildings, including the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, that are worth exploring.